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Whoops! Why Experts Say We Shouldn’t Force Kids to Kiss Grandma

Photo credit: Meredith Carroll

Pucker up

I just know I’m not alone in being one of those parents who has a laundry list of things I let or try and make my 2- and 5-year-olds do that I know I shouldn’t.

Off the top of my head:

  • They get far too much screen time (Barney is so much cheaper than our regular babysitter).
  • My 5-year-old sneaks by without much protein or calcium in her diet.
  • My 2-year-old stomps by with too much everything in her diet.
  • I make ridiculous threats that I know I will never follow through with (“OK, I’m leaving this store without you unless you come with me right now.” Sound familiar, anyone?) in an effort to accomplish the absurd, like assuming my kids will understand a schedule and have a concept of time.
  • I tell my 2-year-old that I’m “Sad Mommy” if she won’t kiss me, but I’m “Happy Mommy!” if she does.

I know, I know. Mother Hall of Shame, here I come. As we all know, you can be the best parent 98 percent of the time, but it’s the other two percent that others will ultimately judge you for.

Of course, like everyone else, I probably judge myself harsher than anyone else could possibly judge me (although there are plenty of close seconds). For instance, I know I’m not supposed to be manipulating a toddler into physical affection. While it seems mostly harmless and she thinks it’s a fun game (plus, you have to see how delightfully cute she is when she asks, “Sad Momma?” and then puckers up to make me happy), I get that no child should ever be forced into doing something physically against their will.

An article in The Telegraph just reminded me of that, even though I don’t really need reminding. Lucy Emmerson is the coordinator of a UK organization called the Sex Education Forum, and says “children needed to learn ‘from age zero’ about the importance of consent and that ‘their bodies are their own.’”

Forcing kids to kiss their grandparents, various other relatives, friends and acquaintances (and, um, their moms) is perhaps detrimental when it comes to helping them learn how to “avoid future sexual exploitation.” Emmerson warns that unwanted affection “could blur the boundaries of what is acceptable when it comes to physical contact.”

There’s nothing more important to me than the physical and emotional safety of my kids. And for the most part, I don’t make them get physical with anyone else. Heck, I don’t even make them get physical with me. I know who they love, with whom they’re comfortable, and when to back off when they don’t want to give a hug.

“It’s OK,” I’ll say after a moment before it gets awkward when my kids appear to not want to kiss a friend or loved one hello or good-bye.

Maybe it’s no different when I playfully manipulate my toddler into thinking that I’m only happy when she kisses me, and that she’s disappointing me when she doesn’t. But part of me wonders: So we have to read into everything so deeply?

No, say other experts, including Norman Wells, who’s the director of the Family Education Trust. He actually thinks I’m not all wrong.

“Even if the distinction is lost on the Sex Education Forum, children and young people are able to recognize that there is all the difference in the world between self-consciously and perhaps on occasion reluctantly kissing an uncle or aunt on the cheek on the one hand, and accepting unwanted sexual advances on the other,” Wells told the Daily Mail.

I don’t take sexual consent lightly, and I do take the responsibility of raising young girls to be strong women very seriously. But I also think I’m intelligent enough, and that I’m bringing up kids with their own great instincts and intelligence (commensurate with their respective ages), to know that playfully kissing me under pseudo-duress won’t make them think they have to kiss everyone, whether or not they want to.

I’m totally guilty of teaching them plenty that they shouldn’t know, but consent is a lesson they’re learning and will continue to learn from me — forced kisses and all.

Photo credit: Meredith Carroll

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Follow Meredith on Twitter and check out her regular column on the op-ed page of The Denver Post at MeredithCarroll.com

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